In the modern, fast-paced business environment, we can all secretly suffer from the leadership ‘speed wobbles’. You know the feeling – you’re peddling fast and suddenly, what felt exhilarating a moment ago now feels out of control and headed for a messy finish in the gutter at the bottom of the hill.
The one thing that leaders avoid acknowledging out loud – but which really needs to be aired and solved – is the internal sense that things are falling apart in our leadership, self-confidence and our ability to keep our teams effectively engaged.
While it’s easy and convenient to believe that we’re able to hide the external symptoms of stress and self-doubt from our teams, the unfortunate truth is that’s simply never the case. Here’s a newsflash: We’re not hiding anything, we’re actually transferring our leadership wobbliness to the team.
UNPRODUCTIVE COPING STRATEGIES OF A STRUGGLING LEADER
Depending on our leadership behaviour profile, which give us insight into how we respond under pressure, we are likely to see unproductive coping strategies playing out. Here are some of the most common, unresourceful strategies of a leader who is struggling:
As leaders experiencing internal speed wobbles, we suffer from waning confidence and our ability to make sound decisions which drive real results in the business deteriorates. This makes us hesitate, overthink, procrastinate and generally second-guess ourselves.
We mistakenly comfort ourselves with statements like: “it’s just not the right time to proceed with this” or “we don’t have all the information needed for this decision”. Meanwhile, business results are stalling (or falling!) and our team is left waiting for a decision on some undetermined schedule – and by the way, under these conditions their mojo is also flagging and their confidence in us as leaders inevitably starts to wobble.
What we’re struggling with here is not knowing how to ‘hold the space for uncertainty’, while still proceeding with sensible, practical decisions that allow forward progress. This unsustainable coping strategy of hesitation is simply an unresourceful way of meeting our needs for certainty by relying on conditions external to us, rather than backing ourselves to make the required decision and navigate the uncertainties.
- DISCONNECTING FROM THE TEAM’S RESULTS
Similar to the hesitation strategy, when under pressure some leaders demonstrate avoidance of being 100% accountable for the team’s results. This leads to statements like: “Yeah, the team just isn’t working well together” or “noone around here takes responsibility for getting the job done”.
What we forget under pressure is that our teams results are our results. If our teams aren’t doing well, if they’re not making progress or delivering quality work, this is actually a reflection of the conditions we create for them under our leadership. We end up blaming them or other external conditions for a lack of results – but forgetting that we as leaders, are accountable for facilitating success. Tough message, right? #sorrynotsorry
- RESCUING BY ‘DOING IT ALL’
This is perhaps THE most common strategy we see in wobbly leaders under pressure. Well-meaning (but not clear-thinking) leaders attempt to rescue their teams from a pumping workflow by diving into the details, doing the actual work of their teams (yes, you know it!) and failing to delegate the lower-value activities out of their role so they can spend time making decisions and serving their teams with clear leadership.
This strategy reflects a failure to acknowledge that some leadership activities like setting clear strategic direction, planning for quality and on-time execution and coaching and growing our teams deliver much higher value than others. Perversely, it can also be a little self-indulgent to ‘do it all’ as our underlying belief is “nobody can do this work better / faster than me”, which not only limits our ability to engage with higher value work but also constrains our team’s ability to surprise and delight us with their untapped capability.
The rescuing strategy also inadvertently communicates a lack of confidence in our people, as we’re not delegating effectively and instead diving into the detail to ‘get the job done’ rather than providing clear guidance about priorities and timeframes.
- CREATING A CULTURE OF NON-DELIVERY
A leader with the speed wobbles can become so overwhelmed that prioritisation goes out the window and nothing meaningful actually gets delivered. Lots of projects get started, but priorities and timeframes are unclear or unrealistic, and because we’re so lost in stress and pressure, the work is conducted in a sporadic, fragmented way – which means nothing ever actually comes together.
The impact of a lack of progress on teams is the feeling that they’re never really kicking goals, which affects their pride, engagement and sense of professional capability. For some this will be infuriatingly frustrating, while for others non-delivery becomes an accepted culture or ‘way of working’. Not cool from a productivity perspective, right?
How long this strategy persists is up to our self-awareness as leaders; or worse, it can depend on how alert and tolerant our bosses are to the continual string of excuses offered about why critical Project X or Result Y is ‘not there yet’.
- LIVING IN DREAM LAND
Just another form of avoidance, living in a child-like dream land allows us to believe that everything will be okay when (insert some external factor) magically sorts itself out. This leader looks chilled on the outside, but internally they’re constantly wrestling with the possibility that things might not be okay after all. What we see on the surface though, is a lack of leadership agency and action. #notinspiring
This wobbly leader forgets that the team’s expectation of their manager is always to take control and action. Their leader appears to be ‘coasting’, not engaged and not taking responsibility for the role of the leader – which is to plot a path through the uncertainty with the team.
Again, this is not a sustainable coping strategy – nor is it one that will generate respect for our leadership.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF WOBBLY LEADERSHIP?
The truth is that no matter how we try to hide our leadership wobbles, our people can energetically sense our leadership state – and they’ll be noticing our actual behaviours and forming judgements too, consciously or subconsciously.
You see, we all need and want basic things from our leaders, such as:
– Clear purpose and strategic direction: Where are we going and why should we care?
– Solid planning: How can we be confident we’ll achieve our goals?
– Feedback: Do we get considered, developmental feedback from our leader?
– Professional development: Is our leader coaching us to grow our skills and capabilities?
When we’re not getting this basic standard of leadership, it follows that we can expect a tangible reduction in the team’s productivity. Let’s assume we have a team of 10 people with an average salary of $70K, so a salary budget of $700K + oncosts. Let’s also assume they are all 10% less productive (very conservatively) under our wobbly leadership. That’s at least $70K of productivity we are leaving on the table every year, not to mention the flow-on effects of the team’s lower productivity on other areas of the business. #doh
And if that’s not enough, under wobbly leadership our teams start to doubt us (and themselves), and other more systemic, cultural perversities can creep in such as blame-throwing, ass-covering, cliques and overall poor morale and disengagement. #notcool
RECOVERING OUR LEADERSHIP MOJO
The solution to our leadership wobbles starts with us – it cannot sustainably come from external sources such as better market conditions, a different boss or new and better team members which are prone to fluctuate over time.
When we talk about leadership mojo, we want to achieve ‘unconditional leadership’ which means that our thinking and energy stays consistently focussed and strong in every situation, because we are able to choose the most constructive leadership state despite the challenges of the prevailing conditions in the market, business or team.
The only way we can achieve this is to look within.
In our leadership coaching and workshops, we explore the four quadrants which support our leadership mojo – they are mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.
If you’re currently in a pickle with wobbly leadership mojo, here are some helpful questions you might ask yourself:
– Mental: Am I professionally current, actively engaged in reading / watching / listening to inspired resources, which allow me to create meaningful plans for my highest contribution?
– Physical: Am I physically healthy, fit and able to energetically navigate the daily demands of my leadership role and life?
– Emotional: Do I allow myself to feel and process emotions to conclusion, so that I can arrive at a healthy leadership state and outlook on work and life?
– Spiritual: What do I truly love to do for myself or others, which makes me feel grounded, inspired and energised about life?
One of these questions will likely stand out as a natural place to begin to recover leadership mojo. Trust your assessment and begin to explore what needs to be ‘topped up’, so that you can achieve a sustainably steady leadership state.
Feeling stuck? Reach out for a conversation about working together. We’ll help you feel better from the very first conversation.